A rare Saarinen House opens to the public
Every architect worth his or her salt designs an important house sometime in their career. For Mies van der Rohe that house was the Farnsworth House. For Frank Lloyd Wright, it was Fallingwater. But when it comes to Eero Saarinen, we rarely think of his work in terms of houses. This may soon change however when the public gets its first peek at the Miller House, an exquisite yet little known mid-century Modernist house designed by Saarinen in the early 1950s for the industrialist J. Irwin Miller.
Located in Columbus Indiana, the house has remained a private enclave for most of its existence. But thanks to the Miller family’s generous gift of the house to the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), which restored it to its original glory, this private oasis is sure to become a national treasure. The house, with interiors designed by Alexander Girard and gardens designed by Dan Kiley, opens to the public on 10th May.
Formally the house draws obvious comparison to Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, which indeed inspired it - a pavilion in a landscape exquisitely detailed and mathematically ordered to the nth degree. But unlike the cool restraint of the Farnsworth House, the Miller House has been warmed considerably with interiors designed by Girard and further enlivened with a couple of architectural innovations, like a sunken conversation pit, which subsequently found its way into house designs by others (most notably in Paul Rudolph’s work) before becoming cliché.
But what’s most interesting about the Miller House is that it was conceived at the height of the experience of Modernism and by three designers who were at the peak of their careers: with Saarinen building his most important domestic commission, Girard doing his most beautiful interiors and Kiley’s gardens being regarded as some of the masterpieces of 20th century landscape architecture.
At the centre of this amazing triumvirate was Mr. Miller himself, that rare client who gave these designers free range to do as they like placing no programmatic or budget restrictions on the design of the house. Miller was not only an important client for Saarinen, who designed several other buildings for Miller in Columbus, including the First Christian Church and the Irwin Union Bank & Trust building, which bears a striking resemblance to the Miller House, he also helped put Columbus on the architectural map, by commissioning important buildings there. Columbus is currently ranked sixth in the nation by the American Institute of Architects for architectural innovation and design and the community has more than 70 buildings by noted modern architects - such as I.M. Pei, Cesar Pelli, Robert Venturi, John Carl Warnecke and Harry Weese.
In celebration of the opening of the Miller House and Garden to public tours, the IMA will host a symposium with some of America’s leading design experts exploring the legacy of the Miller House and Garden. The symposium, to be held 20th May 2011, will feature talks by architect Deborah Berke, landscape architect Lauri Olin, interior designer Brad Dunning, and architecture critic Suzanne Stephens.